Rigidity on policies should be applied as a means of last resort, not first response!
Business travel can be challenging from time to time, but it is a necessary component of our business model. I always take note of the opportunity during our travels to serve the customer and cement a lasting relationship versus the obvious opposite. Company policies are a good example of this.
Recently, we were traveling in the Midwest. We noticed bad weather coming in that evening, forecasted ice and snow, so I called the airline to see if we could change our flight to the night before instead of the first flight out the next morning.
The conversation was very interesting, because the airline stated that they would waive the ticket change fee, but I would have to pay the repricing fee. I asked what the fee was and after a short moment to recalculate I was informed that the new fee to fly for the two of us would be an additional $1,100.00. I suppressed my shock and asked, “Why the large price difference?” The response was not surprising. I was informed the carrier I was on had implemented a “Demand Based Pricing” policy. As the flight departure looms closer, the price goes up.
I thought to myself that I could press the issue, but at what price victory? So, I thanked the Customer Service Representative for their time, declined the price change, and informed them that we will take the planned flight the next morning.
The Situation Deteriorates
When we prepared the leave the hotel next morning, we woke to a ½ inch of ice on the car. It was significant, but we had plenty of time to clear the car off. As I was scraping the ice off of the car, I could not help but think of my call with the airline the day before.
We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the first flight, boarded on time and sat there. We waited over an hour for the push-back and then deicing before we were airborne, but we were on the way to our connection. We knew that our connection would be tight, but I was confident that we would make it.
Our connecting flight departed at 9:10 AM. We landed at 8:55, scrambled to get a cart to take us to our gate, and arrived at the gate a 9:04. No gate agent, we concluded that they were on the jetway. We ask the gate agent next door to go out and tell the assigned gate agent that were here and not to close the door (note: we could see the gate agent talking to the crew at the aircraft door).
Both agents returned to the gate area and the assigned gate agent informed us that the door was closed and that it was company policy that aircraft doors be closed eight minutes before the flight departure.
Regardless of the conversation that ensued, the gate agent admitted that they could see that our flight had landed and that we were deplaning, but he chose to not wait. Two minutes, I said… two minutes? You could not wait two minutes. Their response again… corporate policy!
Of course, I agree that organizational policies are a necessary aspect of maintaining a consistent customer service environment, but they can also be misused or misapplied. Yes, I was miffed, and I got over it, but the fact remains that sometimes the rigid application of policies means to hide behind them and not try to do the right thing!
We had plenty of options to return to our offices, and we did make it back, but the alarming aspect of both of these events was there was little to no effort to try and rise to the occasion. The question is, what message are we sending to our customers when we immediately convey that it is policy and there is nothing they can do?
Rigidity as a policy should be applied as a means of last resort, not first response! An understanding and more customer empathetic response would be, “Let me see what I can do”or “I asked my supervisor if I could hold the flight, but they declined the request due to traffic”. A little effort could go a long way in creating a lasting memory of “At least they tried” as opposed, it’s policy… TOUGH!